Saturday, August 11, 2007

Read and Weep #1 

Want to become depressed, frustrated, angry and appalled? Read the article: Read It and Weep, published in the Weekly Standard. I taught upper elementary grades in the 1970's. We were seeing the initial efforts to displace reading systems that worked with the untested whole language ideology in reading and other subjects. Since then I have seen the lack of progress in reading skills, particularly for poor students. I know that SAT test scores have been renormed. But I had no idea how much the instruction of reading (and I'm guessing other subjects) had been replaced with letting students literally write and spell incorrectly as well as trying to read without learning the codes to decipher language.

As background, I taught in three levels of public schools.
1 - This district was quite wealthy. The average classroom IQ was about 120 and ranged from 110-145. Parents paid attention to what their children were learning (but were not the helicopter, "my kid can do no wrong" parents of today). Attendance at back-to-school night was so high we offered three nights of two grades each so parents could meet all teachers. Often both parents attended personal conferences.
2 - The second district was an average middle class school. We had a far wider range of IQ scores and decent attendance at back-to-school. We had full attendance at individual parent conferences though usually only one parent.
3 - The third school was incredibly diverse: economically we had welfare families to upper middle class; racial mix included every shade of beige and brown and all in between; we had 25% off the boat foreign students from Latin America, Asia, Africa and even a few European nations. We had missing parents and embassy staffers. In other words, we had it all. We did have high attendance at teacher conferences. Mine was close to 100%.

In each school system we used reading texts designed to improve reading scores. In all I read aloud to my students daily. They thoroughly enjoyed this. They thought they were getting a "break" but actually they were getting exposed to the best written stories of the day. I always gave distinct voices to the main characters. They loved this aspect and began to do it themselves. This practice makes books come alive.

Future posts will discuss the various approaches used in each school. Demographics drive programs but we demanded work, excellence, timeliness, and other standards in every school. We simply said, "No excuses - you must read and read well."